Children of my times in 70's and 80's(before the advent of satellite channels) used to play indoor games like pallankuzhi, kuzhangal(pebbles), Paramapadham(snakes and ladders), Daaya kattai, cards etc. along with the above games we played out door games like goli(marbles), bambaram (spinning top), paandi( hopscotch), gilli danda, seven stones(lagori in kannada), kanna mucchi( hidenseek), skipping and other pretend games like teacher – pupil games, chor-police, amma- appa vilayattu which kept us both mentally alert and physically fit.
Native games were excellent learning tools. It helped you to develop sensory visual and motor skills, improved your hand/ eye co-ordination, helped you to count, feel, identify colors, learn numbers and history & mythology. All these while you were having fun. The materials used for the games like wood ,stones, sticks, seeds were also eco-friendly . The games were suitable for all ages and not complicated and so it increased the interaction between the elders and the youngsters and kept them bonded. May be these games added to the native wisdom of our elders who were much wiser.
For instance, Pallankuzhi consists of two panels which are foldable. Each panel consists of 7 hollows and tamarind seeds/small shells are used as coins. This game helps in counting and also activates the nerves on the tips of your finger as you remove the coins from the hollows. Of late this game is also played on mobiles/computers. Here again you play with your finger tips but on a plastic base not of natural wood. It was played during festivals like sivarathri Vaikunta Ekadasi . I too played this game during my childhood days at my grandmother’s place. I have my grandmother’s pallanguzhi and have taught my children to play.
Kuzhangal also called anju kalattam/ezhu kallatam in tamil has five/seven small pebbles. This game is played by throwing one pebble up and collecting the remaining pebbles before the thrown one comes down. I have seen the construction labourers near my complex playing this game during free time. This game helps in hand/eye co-ordination.
Paramapadham is perhaps the origin of the board game snakes and ladders. 100 squares having snakes and ladders some small and some big, here and there. Dice is thrown and the number on the dice will be the moves you make across the board. If you place the move on the base of the ladder you ascend to the top end of the ladder and if you place the move on the mouth of the snake then you descend down to where the tail of the snake ends. This game teaches you to handle success and disappointments alike. This is still played by some of the children.
Daaya kattai: In this game there are many versions like 5 house, 9 house etc. In the 5 house version you make a matrix of 5 rows and columns and stroke off the middle house with a X . Roll the dice and move across the houses on the outer matrix. The innermost middle square is the home/endpoint where you have to reach. To reach the home you have to go around the innermost matrix. To enter in you have to knock off your opponents coins. Here again you and your opponent will have 4 coins each of different make like tamarind seeds, shells, match sticks etc. Usually all coins are taken from nature. Each coin has to reach home . The one who reaches all the coins first is considered the winner. Here the rolling dice is made of wood/metal called daaya kattai. You have to roll the dice with both your palms before you put it on the ground. This rolling of the metal pieces activates all the nerves and help the flow of blood on your palms. I and my friend shammi used to play this game with our neighbouring old aunties. Now sharun and shreya play with my father during summer vacation.
Playing cards was another past time in our house with my mom and atthai ( father’s sister) teaming together against appa and chittappa( father’s brother). It was good relaxation for them after their daily work and it was fun to see them having mock fights saying each one cheated the other.
Not many children of the present generation are even aware of these games. With no play ground near home/school They are addicted to modern form of e- games/satellite channels and also become sure shot candidates for all lifestyle diseases.
Modern games are also good and educative but only they are more expensive and are made from materials which are not perishable. They end up as e-waste and also weaken us physically making our eyes, neck, shoulder and limbs stiff. They pin us down to a postion. The special effect sound is not pleasing to your ears.
I think we as parents should help our kids strike a balance. Teach and educate them about our traditional games and rich past along with their new gizmos & technology.
Today, I am glad many foundations and companies like Marabhu and Kreeda are bridging the gap. Games like pallanguzhi are available in upmarket stores and cultural stores. The games are revived during cultural festivals like Mylapore festival held in Jan at Chennai.
Long live our native games.